Archive for the ‘radio’ Category
And they wonder why radio listening is falling
It struck me tonight what an effort radio listening sometimes is, and this came as a shock. After all, this is radio: the original electronic medium, the simplest, the most pervasive, most easily consumed.
Yeah, I thought all that too, until I tried to catch the grand finale of London 2012, the Paralympic Games closing ceremony.
I was on a train to Manchester for most of it. The on-board wifi isn’t up to TV distribution, and although I brought my digital TV USB stick with me, (yes I am that much of a geek) reception is impossible on the move.
No problem, I thought, I’ll listen. After all, I love radio – I started my career at Radio NZ (after listening to BBC World Service all through my teens) and radio is perfect for a couple of hours on the train.
I got out my phone, pushed in the headphones, flicked on the built-in FM radio app and fell at the first hurdle. Not from poor reception, actually I could get 10 FM stations from the start-up scan.
No, the problem was partly to do with paralympics broadcasting rights and partly technology.
For reasons I don’t have the strength to go into, the Paralympics on the radio is only on BBC Radio 5 Live. 5 Live broadcast on AM, DAB and online.
My phone doesn’t do AM (sensible device, it’s rubbish) but neither does it do DAB (for the same reason).
That leaves me with online, and I spent a good 10 minutes poking round in Android’s app downloads to find a suitable radio player.
I found one, Tune-In Radio if you’re that bothered.
Luckily the 3G signal on that bit of the railways is better than the TV reception and eventually, I’m listening at something close to FM quality. (Incidentally the module sticking out of my phone in the picture above is a battery extender. Continuous 3G data doesn’t half suck up the power!)
Now what a hassle just to listen to the radio! And I was thinking that accessibility was the least of radio’s problems. Listening hours are falling, even though overall reach is high, and the younger you are, the less you listen.
Thinking back what irked me more deeply was the thought of how wasteful it was. Even though we’ve built up a network of AM, FM and now DAB networks, to get what I wanted I had to have a dedicated signal of it transmitted to the train simply because none of the others was an option.
This leaves me suddenly with lots of questions over radio’s future that I hadn’t asked myself before, and it makes me look again at the ways in which you can receive 5Live and knowing exactly why they leave analogue radio languishing at the bottom.
Transmit til it megahertz, 47 years and counting.
It is such an iconic part of the London skyline, central to telecoms, and in particular television development in the UK.
I have a soft spot for the BT Tower / Post Office Tower. I gaze up at it. I watch it. I take photos of it.
When the antenna galleries were stripped of all the original (and subsequently added) microwave aerials at the end of 2011, I wasn’t the only one worried we were at the end of an era for the Tower.
In an era before fibre optics and before satellite transmission really got going, you moved signals across the country in point-to-point hops from one transceiver to the next, and the Tower was the centre of the network.
But I’m pleased to report a small return to form. The picture on the left I took in mid April 2012. The picture on the right was taken on 2 May 2012.
Spot the difference (apart from the weather) There’s a new white microwave antenna – the tower is beaming long-distance signals again! 47 years on, it still performing its original purpose.
Interestingly, the new dish isn’t located in the traditional gallery, but much further up the tower which means it probably has a range of around 25-30 miles depending on the power output. It’s facing west, which takes it out to about Slough.
The diameter is about 2 meters, so a significant sized dish.
It’s highly likely that this link is being used by a company other than BT, but if you know any details, let us know in the comments.
Restructuring doesn’t just affect paper
I’m a huge fan of time-shifted and downloadable radio. I currently have 12 regular ‘must listens’ on my phone at any one time and they’re brilliant accompaniment for walking to and from train stations as well as drowning out other people’s overly-loud personal music choices once you’re on the train.
But my ‘must listen’ count has just reduced by one. The Guardian has decided to drop its regular business podcast. This is a shame, because at a time when I feel we need more analysis of business, there’s slightly less choice now.
I also feel it’s loss should be noted, as when I looked around last week to see if anyone was noting it at all, I was surprised and saddened to find almost nothing bar the odd mention on Twitter:
RIP The Guardian Business Podcast, you were useful, interesting, and no more bit.ly/ue7xeE
— Mark Hillary (@markhillary) February 6, 2012
This might be for a couple of reasons. The mention that the current episode was the final one came in the final 30 seconds, perhaps people had dipped out before the end and missed it. The second reason might just be that there were few people actually listening at all.
That annoys me because it was genuinely good. But I’m a realist, things change, efforts are put in other places. I don’t read the Guardian’s business pages, so sadly, my contact with that part of their journalism ends here.
It’s worth touching on another change I’ve heard while listening to another Guardian programme, Tech Weekly. Talented long-time producer Scott Cawley left at the end of January.
With the Guardian’s former Head of Audio and presenter of Media Talk, Matt Wells, now in New York, there are clearly changes ongoing to the area he launched and championed.
I’m trying to think what else will be in the pipeline. Media Talk itself has competition now in the form of the Radio 4 Media Show, and I haven’t heard an episode of the US edition of the podcast in years.
Also a loss.
In the meantime, here’s some other business and economics programmes that are worth adding your feeds to replace the Guardian.
BBC In Business/World Business with Peter Day (if you’re not already listening to this, go to the back of the class)
NPR Planet Money – twice a week and addictive
And finally the Economist’s weekly “Money Talks”. Don’t look for it on their site. Due to their hopeless search and out of date RSS feeds (which I’ve mentioned before) you’ll be taken to an episode from October 2011. This is a shame, because the programme isn’t bad, just hard to find.
The Economist, this means you!
If you move home, you can get the post office to redirect your letters so they come to your new address. If you change your internet address, it makes sense to tell your users where you’ve gone too.
So why do websites make it difficult for themselves by not doing this on their RSS feeds?
I almost never visit homepages, they are generally a waste of my time to flick through and find out what the new stuff is. I’ve even set my browser to come up with a blank page. Like most webusers, I begin with a search, or if I’m using some type of internet news reader software, then I’m using RSS.
If you change the address of your feed and don’t tell me, you’ve just lost me and everyone else who used to read you from that source.
Better still if you’ve decided to retire the blog, tell me and suggest alternatives. Don’t just stop updating. Best practice here from the Financial Times.
And the bad practice award also goes to the FT, as that’s exactly what they did almost a year ago when they moved their Tech Blog from
This means my feed just hangs on the last entry, 30 Dec 2010, and my tablet/phone/desktop newsreader stops working.
It’s not just news articles. Media downloads or podcasts depend on RSS. I haven’t had a new piece of Economist audio or video on my MP3 player since the end of October! No reason as to why in the feed. It still works, it’s just got nothing new in it.
So I pop over to their multimedia page. Lots of new stuff on there, so at least they’re still making it. The RSS indicator on the page takes me to http://www.economist.com/rss which oddly mostly contains links back to the main websites, rather than to RSS links and certainly not a working multimedia RSS.
Their (possibly out of date) video portal at http://video.economist.com does have a front and centre RSS link. But that takes me to yet another (possibly even older) list of feeds, none of which is the one I’ve requested.
So, the Economist was making interesting stuff that used to turn up on my MP3 player/tablet/phone.
It’s still making useful stuff, except that now I can only watch/listen when I’m at my computer (which is increasingly irregular). Or maybe I can get it on a more useful device, except they’re making it really hard to find out how.
If you’ve got a working feed for the Economist’s multimedia output, do let me know in the comments!
Radio-on-your-mobile learns lessons of 2 generations ago
The National Association of Broadcasters in the US, is trying to interest more phone manufacturers into including FM radios in their handsets. I’m amazed this hasn’t been a priority earlier, radio listening is increasing, mostly on devices that aren’t traditional analogue radios.
The NAB initiative is keen to see antennas included within the handset, so people can listen with wireless headphones. Most FM radios currently require wired headsets, as it’s the wire which is picking up the signal.
I’m instantly thinking of the 60s revolution in radio when transistors brought in pocket-sized radios and a fleet (literally) of new radio stations offered new listeners greater choice.
Will this happen again? With integrated antennas in phones, are we likely to see groups of people lying in the sun, in a park, chilling around their phone? (I almost hope not, seeing as I already get this on the top deck of London Buses!)
I don’t think so. Here’s why. Radio hasn’t worked out a way to make their content as transparent and accessible as the on-demand kind. It’s too linear. Online I can tell a great deal about what I’m listening to. MP3 devices are full of extra metadata to rate and order the content on them.
Listening to the radio, when you’re used to the alternative, is a bit like flying in the dark. I don’t know what’s coming next, and I’m not sure I like that.
I listen to loads of audio downloads of radio programmes. That’s about having what I want, when I want, and what I’ve selected is a known quantity, even if I don’t know the exact content when I download it.
Interestingly Apple have never included any radio tuner on their devices. I’ve always wondered if online listening apps like Last.fm would be quite as popular if there was a default radio tuner already onboard.
Maybe not. I can’t say I listen to the radio on my Nokia that much. Apart from anything, the audio’s pretty terrible and I’m used to crystal clear digital sound nowadays. And when I’m out and about I tend not to be idly listening and I always have something downloaded and ready to go on either my phone (normally news and current affairs, because I can download on-the-go) or my iPod (usually stuff that won’t date so quickly).
Britain’s temporarily backtracked on having more DAB services. But I’m all for them, but not as linear radio. New DAB should be essentially a data loop of content on various channels. When you’re in within reception, your phone just starts downloading the programmes off the air, depending on the preselections you’ve made.
It could all be done faster than real-time. It should all come with current text information and metadata which your phone captures as well. I download lots of RSS headlines … they could just come straight to the phone. Like Ceefax, but digital, wireless and mobile.
Live streams could be carried too. You could be interrupted by important live news, like travel and traffic info) while I’m listening to something pre-recorded. Like the way RDS works in cars, having opted-in, your phone swaps your headphones over to the live stream when an update is going out.(Check out the US-based Alert FM system which does something similar, albeit over analogue)
The swinging 60s pioneered shared, accessible youth media. Technology was the catalyst. I can’t help but think we’re missing an important lesson from two generations ago.
At least not in this form
The Sun have started up an online radio show, Sun Talk and it’s now been running just over a week.
I can’t see it lasting.
Let’s qualify this. I applaud any newspaper’s efforts to meet the challenge of winning new audiences in digital spaces, but you don’t do that by merely matching what your analogue competition does. To stand out and stay ahead, you need to leapfrog your competition.
Sun Talk sounds like a standard analogue radio format pushed on the web.
It’s very linear. Three hours realtime, and the ‘listen again’ is one big block of three hours too. There’s no way to skip to bits that might interest you specifically, even though the Sun list some highlights text in their player console.
The audio-drag bar doesn’t even give you any timing so you can’t see how far along the programme you are, even if you knew where to jump to.
Given that this is not traditional radio, part of the online effect is that you tend to get more people listening on-demand than live. But the show isn’t structured in a way that means the Sun can take advantage of this, by packaging segments up and offering them discretely.
The show needs to have the podcast listeners in mind, more than the live ones, but this is currently round the wrong way.
The jingles are fun, but again very old radio and I think they’ll get on your nerves after a while, particularly as there doesn’t appear to be any dynamic compression, so the levels constantly jump up and down.
Amazingly there’s no interaction between the website and the audio show, witnessed by the fact that Jon Gaunt references stories in the paper … (actually *in* the paper, you can see him pick it up in the studio and read it)
“Did you see that story in the paper? Go out and get it if you didn’t!”
I don’t need to go out and get it Jon, I’m on the internet. I can surf to the story, if you send out some data streams with the audio, or just stick a link to the story on a page, or in the player perhaps?
Equally I smiled when Jon broke into a guest’s answer to remind people who he was and what they were listening too, as if I’d just been tuning up and down the dial and happened across him.
There’s a huge banner on my screen with that information!
Who’s listening? Internet chatter is strangly muted. There’s a spike on launch day and then very little. Apart from a great wrap of the first programme from John Plunkett, the blogs are quiet – this can’t be good.
What it good about this project is it gets the Sun journos used to producing, regularly, more than just a newspaper and website.
However, listening to columnist after columnist gets a bit boring, particularly when the Sun, the paper, is positively alive with interesting and fun material. The Sun in audio format, this is not.
Radio’s a great medium to experiment in because it’s so cheap, but hugely competitive because there are so few barriers to entry.
It’s daring because many of the core group of Sun readers wouldn’t be online radio listeners, so maybe there’s a new audience to attract here.
Yes, it’s a good exercise in brand extension, but it’s not a way to make money, and in this form, it’s not really doing anything innovative … yet.